A Short Review of THE PRESTIGE (novel, not film)

The PrestigeThe Prestige by Christopher Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a re-read, actually. I first read the Prestige closer to its original date and remember it fondly as a somewhat slow paced Victorian style novel with lots of thematic flavor. Seeing the 2006 film again recently rekindled my interest in the original novel. The novel Prestige and the film Prestige are fundamentally different stories. The novel is superior to the film in many ways. There are some critical plot hooks here that I refuse to reveal as foreknowledge will ruin both the book and the film for you. So consider this review to be spoiler free. The novel is told in epistolary fashion, with excerpts from the diaries of the two protagonists, Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden (Rupert is “Robert” in the movie for some reason). Both are stage magicians, and both of them have fundamental philosophies of magic that are at odds with the other. Borden is from a working class family, and he emphasizes personal sacrifice and rigorous adherence to his magician’s public persona as the price paid for his performance. Angier is the disinherited son of a noble family, and he favors apparatus and science over substance. Due to a tragic misunderstanding early in both of their careers, Angier suffers injury at Borden’s hands. A feud develops between the two magicians that comes to dominate both of their lives. The lengths both magicians take to hurt each other is the central focus, and entertainment of the novel. The novel has a Rashomon-like quality as we read events first from Alfred’s, then Rupert’s point of view (through diary entries). There is a third correspondent who is revealed very late in the novel, that ties it all together, and an encompassing narrative from a modern day descendant of Borden at the start and finish of the novel that doesn’t do much for the plot but wrap all the diary entries into a neat package.

Summary: I enjoyed it much more the second time– I really didn’t respond to the creepy thrilling elements of the original novel as much the first time. The Prestige has so many great edge of your seat moments written into it. There are many great visuals that (in my mind) would have made a better movie than what Christopher Nolan put on the screen in 2006, and I like that movie.
Nolan did a disservice to the original by combining several supporting characters together and making the two magicians as one-time friends. This is a great story and much better as a novel than a film.

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